Contreras' wife, two daughters are in Florida

Updated: June 24, 2004, 12:48 AM ET
ESPN.com news services

MIAMI BEACH, Fla. -- Jose Contreras said he's dreamed of showing his wife and daughters the sights of New York, from Yankee Stadium to the Empire State Building.

He finally has that opportunity.

Miriam Contreras
APMiriam Contreras, left, wife of Yankees pitcher Jose Contreras, laughs in Miami with her her sister Yamile Murillo, daughter Naylenis, and daughter Naylan.

Nearly 21 months after the New York Yankees pitcher escaped Cuba and reached the United States, his family defected and joined him. Contreras was reunited with his wife Miriam and daughters Naylan, 11, and Naylenis, 3, on Tuesday night, traveling from Baltimore for a long-awaited reunion.

"I'm going to do with them as people did with me," Contreras said through Yankees interpreter Leo Astacio during a news conference outside a Miami Beach hotel. "I'm going to show them all the beautiful things New York has to offer."

Contreras' agent, Jaime Torres, said Wednesday that no plans were set for when the family would leave South Florida. Contreras is scheduled to start Saturday at Yankee Stadium against the New York Mets.

"It's spectacular news," Yankees manager Joe Torre said before Tuesday night's 10-4 win at Baltimore.

Contreras' family was among a group of 21 Cubans that left Cuba on a 31-foot boat Sunday evening, U.S. Border Patrol spokesman Robert Montemayor said.

The group was captured by U.S. Border Patrol agents on Big Pine Key at 5:15 a.m. Monday, Montemayor said, then transferred into Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody early Tuesday morning. Cubans who reach U.S. shores are generally permitted to stay, while those caught at sea are usually taken back.

The family, looking tired but otherwise seemingly in good health, was processed and interviewed by immigration agents, then examined by Miami-Dade County medical officials before being released into Torres' custody around 6:40 p.m. Contreras arrived on a commercial flight and saw his family four hours later.

"This is their dream come true," Torres said.

Contreras was reunited with his family on the way from Miami International Airport to the hotel, Torres said. Contreras left the airport in a black stretch SUV limousine, but his family was delayed in traffic and never met his flight. The group finally got together just off the airport, then rode together to the hotel.

"I thought I would never see him again," Contreras' wife said at the news conference, held next to a fountain outside the lobby of the hotel where the family stayed Tuesday night.

Contreras, a former star on Cuba's national team, defected in October 2002. After he established residency in Nicaragua and became a free agent, the Yankees signed him to a $32 million, four-year contract, creating big expectations in New York.

Jose Contreras
Contreras

He's been inconsistent with the Yankees, who earlier this year sent him to the minor leagues for a stretch. While Contreras called his family daily, the separation was often mentioned as a reason for his struggles. Contreras is 4-3 with a 6.18 ERA in 11 starts this year.

"I think I'm going to be a lot more comfortable now, a lot more tranquil," he said.

Torre agreed, saying having family by his side will provide Contreras with support he needs.

"He had really his home and four walls, so it's tough to go home and not think about bad things that have happened or good things that may turn bad," Torre said.

Nicaragua twice granted Contreras' family visas, but the Cuban government denied permission for his relatives to leave the island. In late 2002, Contreras' family was informed it would have to wait five years for a document required to leave.

"Her actions show how badly she wants to be here," Torres said of Contreras' wife.

And Contreras said he felt alone without the family he'd left behind.

"My dream was to pitch for the Yankees in a World Series," Contreras said. "Now that my family is here, I'm complete."

Last week, when the Yankees were visiting the Arizona Diamondbacks, Contreras reaffirmed to ESPN how badly he missed his family and how it was affecting his mental state.

"I never stop thinking about them," he told ESPN. "I try not to have it affect my pitching."

In 29 career starts (20 appearances), Contreras is 11-5 with a 4.50 ERA.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.